Heavy Heart and Fear – exploring emotions with catalogue poems


On a recent drive, I had the pleasure of listening to Tim Rogers sing an acoustic version of You Am I’s classic ‘Heavy Heart’. Line after line struck me as good examples of expressing sadness through metaphors and similes, and without a single reference to the word ‘sad’. As I drove, I formulated a lesson for my senior English class.

These lyrics successfully demonstrate the often mentioned dictate ‘show’ not ‘tell’ and could assist students develop their confidence in creating sophisticated writing. Here are the basic points of our successful lesson:

  • distribute the lyrics for Heavy Heart  and listen to the song
  • students identify the key emotions expressed. We decided the main ideas were sad and lonely
  • we noted how neither of these words were used in the actual lyrics, yet the message was clear
  • next, each student was asked to read a copy of Fear by Raymond Carver
  • students shared their understanding of the poem, and nominated obvious language features
  • the term ‘catalogue poem’ was introduced
  • students nominated other emotions that could be the topic of a catalgoe poem, and came up with these ideas: confused, excitement, happy, disappointment, regret, grateful
  • we also discussed if we should use a different form of each emotion and whether ‘of’ would work – we agreed that of, is, or by could be used
  • we spent 20 minutes writing our own catalogue poem
  • we shared the emotion and one or two lines, with some students reading their complete poem
  • next, we discussed how these ideas could take our writing straight into similes and metaphors, without having to include a specific emotion. This has the potential to add sophistication by showing rather than telling.

I wrote on happiness. Here is part of first draft:

Happiness is warm buttered toast.

Happiness is a cold dog’s nose pressed into your neck.

Happiness is the first bloom of spring.

Happiness is a giggling child.

  • to finish this lesson, students were instructed to choose the best images or ideas from their catalogue poem, remove the first two words of each line and write their ideas as prose.

This is how my first draft reads:

A cold dog’s nose pressed into my neck on a perfect day. Walking home at dusk, knowing it has been a good day. Sharing a laugh, a coffee, a piece of cake. Stepping through the front door. Home. A surprise bouquet of flowers sitting on the mantle.

  • with no time to share our prose, we briefly considered how an emotion can be successfully shown. Editing, of course, would strengthen and improve our drafts.

*image from Michelle Ward

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s